Press enter after choosing selection

Weeping Suspect Denies Hotel Fire Was Arson

Weeping Suspect Denies Hotel Fire Was Arson image
Parent Issue
Copyright Protected
Rights Held By
Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.
OCR Text

Weeping at times, a Tennessee resident charged with arson in a $300,000 hotel fire last winter, told a Circuit Court jury Monday afternoon that he did not intentionally set the blaze. Robert Trotter took the stand in the courtroom of Judge Ross Campbell to give a sometimes rambling account of his medical history and his movements after coming to Michigan last February. The defendant, 38, was arrested shortly after the blaze in the Ann Arbor Inn, S. Fourth Avenue and E. Huron Street, on Feb. 13, 1975. Ann Arbor pólice and Fire Department investigators say the fire started in Trotter's room on the seI venth floor and that he intentionally set it. Trotter is being defended by John Thompson of the county Public Defender's office. Len Kowalski, an assistant prosecutor, is appearing at the trial for the state. Under both direct examination by Thompson and cross-examination by Kowalski, Trotter gave a detailed account of his travels and experiences prior to the Feb. 13 fire. Under cross-examination by Kowalski, Trotter broke into tears at one point and blurted: 'Tve got five kids. I knew there was kids in that hotel. I'm not the kind of man who sets a fire." He said he had an 18-year history of epilepsy and had had a seizure in the I County Jail'Sunday night. He told I ski under cross-examination that stress I I and worry can bring on a seizure. Then I breaking into sobs, he said the jail 1 zure was the result of worry over his I youngest child who also has epilepsy. I Trotter frequently volunteered I ments from the witness stand. At one I point he burst out with: "I didn't set the I hotel afire on purpose." He told of coming to Michigan by bus I to visit Wayne County relatives in late I January and of having an epileptic I zure on the road as he started to I hike back to Tennesse in February. He I said he was picked up by Monroe County I Sheriff's Deputies and transported to the I Veterans Administration in Ann Arbor. Trotter said upon his discharge from I the hospital on Feb. 11, he obtained I about $90 from his wife in Tennéssee, I I and bought a bus ticket. But he said he I I was robbed of the ticket, epilepsy I I cine and cash by two men who attacked I I him in an alley in the 100 block of East I I Ann Street where he had gone for a I I drink. ' ■ 1 He said he obtained a room at the Ann I Arbor Inn on the night of the blaze by having a Tennessee prosecuting attorney pledge the room rent by phone. Trotter said he went to Room 721 at 4 a.m. on Feb. 13, took a shower and then sat on his bed reading a Bible. He said he struck a match to light a cigarettes j b,ut remembers nothing after that. The suspect said he apparently had an epileptic seizure at that point. He said when he awoke his bed was burning and ; he tried in vain to put the fire out. He said he then ran out into the smoke-filled hallway and began banging on doors to arouse other guests. Under cross-examination the defendant admitted to Prosecutor Kowalski that he had lied to Detective Sgt. Wilfred Lyons in a tape-recorded statement given at the County Jail in February. "I didn't teil him I had a seizure. I'm embarrassed by that, people cali it having a fit. I just told him (Lyons) I feil asleep in the room," Trotter testified. Counselor Thompson asked Trotter I about his past criminal record in I nessee and the defendant admitted a 1973 I conviction for extortion and another in I 1963 for "wrecking a car I was going to I buy." ' I Under cross-examination by Kowalski, I Trotter admitted he had been convicted I of extortion both in 1973 and 1974 and of I "obtaiñíñg Aloney undêr false pretenses. ■ I The jury which will delibérate the case I I will remain unaware that one of the I I Trotter convictions involved an arson I I case. Thompson successfully argued with I I the jury out of the courtroom on Monday I I that the arson angle of the criminal re-B I cord should not be permitted to be en-B I tered when Kowalski cross-examines the B I defendant. The assistant prosecutor questionedB I Trotter closely' about his physical status I I immediately after an epileptic seizure. fl I Trotter said he is very weak, has 1 I ness of the limbs and finds it difficult to I I speak. I "But you're saying that after suffering I I a seizure in that hotel room earry on the I I morning of Feb. 13 you were able to leap I I up, run down a hallway, bang on doors I I and help rescue a woman?" Kowalski I I manded of Trotter. I "You can do a lot, of things when I I you're scared," Trotter replied. Other defense witnesses heard Monday I I included David Mendes, an attorney with I I the county's Public Defender office, I Charles Dunn of, the local Department of I Social Services and Sheriff's Deputy Osear Ziegler. Mendes testified that he and attorney Thompson visited the íire-charred Ann Arbor Inn on Feb. 26. He said he marked I down on a pad items Thompson called out to him as they moved around the rooms which had been damaged by the I seventh floor fire. Dunn told of his office issuing a bus I ticket to Trotter on Feb. 11 after the I defendant reported he had been robbed at the rear of the Derby Bar on E. Ann ■ Street. Deputy Ziegler, assigned to the County H Jail, testified he had witnessed two I epileptic seizures which Trotter had exH perienced in the jail. The officer said the ■ seizures lasted 10 to 15 minutes and TrotH ter then was another 10 to 15 minutes I H covering his breath. H Under cross-examination by Kowalski, I m Deputy Ziegler said after the seizures I Trotter was so weak he could not stand I alone and had to be assisted to his bunk. I Hl!c said he was helped on to the bunk I I and then slept deepíy for several hours I I after each of the seizures.